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Sociocracy in co-operative organisations

Drawbacks of Sociocracy

Time and Commitment

Sociocracy is not a quick-fix solution. It requires a commitment to learning and developing co-operative communication skills to ensure all members are supported and equipped to work together and make decisions in an open, highly participatory governance structure.

Recruiting members into a co-op operating socioratically requires an explicit commitment to embrace this style of working and an induction process that provides sufficient training and support to enable probationary members to learn and engage with the structure.

Designing a Circle structure generally requires the support of an external consultant with expertise in sociocracy, or investment in advanced training for a member to lead the process. It may also require advice on integrating sociocratic governance within the co-op’s rules to ensure it fits with company/society law and the necessary steps are taken to officially delegate authority beyond the Board.

It takes time and commitment to train and support members to adopt Consent Decision Making and Circle working, and there can be an initial perception that it seems less effective while new processes are learned and embedded.

In some contexts this may include unlearning practices from more hierarchical governance structures, which can be equally challenging for those used to being managed as for those used to exercising a high degree of autonomous decision-making power in their management roles and responsibilities.

For smaller, more horizontal co-ops it can be a challenge to devolve decision-making from the collective. 

Co-operative rules

Traditional co-operative governing documents are not a perfect fit with sociocracy, but co-operative organisations are able to adopt sociocratic governance and remain in compliance with UK law.

The default position of both Society Rules and Company Articles is that all decision-making power vests in the Board of Directors. To create a governance structure that differs from this model, co-operative organisations will need to either agree to a delegated decision-making framework (which must be accepted by the Board) or write it into their Rules or Articles, ensuring it works within the existing governance guidance.

There are not yet any formal model governing documents for a sociocratic Circle structure, although many co-operative organisations are designing and innovating in this area.

Strategic focus

While sociocracy supports a healthy-power-sharing system that allows strategic and executive decision making at many levels, there is a danger of drifting into bad practice if power is distributed too diffusely. The system must be designed to ensure the legal duties of Directors are fulfilled, and the co-operative remains on course to meet its Vision and Mission. Read more how good co-op governance underpins a co-operative's purpose.